Coalition's plans for Lords reform threatened by backbench rebellion


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The Independent Online

Nick Clegg has sent a clear warning to his party that he is not prepared to put the Coalition at risk to force through reform of the House of Lords against opposition from Conservative sceptics.

In a move that may infuriate Liberal Democrat activists, the Deputy Prime Minister has made it clear that he is not prepared to give David Cameron an ultimatum that Liberal Democrats will withhold support from Tory plans to cut the size of the House of Commons if they do not get their way on Lords reform. Some senior Liberal Democrats, including the party president Tim Farron and Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, have suggested that the two reforms should be tied together as a single package, to give the Tories a motive to back them on Lords reform.

The reforms are threatening to set off the biggest backbench revolt by Tory MPs that David Cameron has faced since he became party leader if it tries to pass legislation before the 2015 general election. Backbench Conservative Mark Pritchard told Sunday Politics: "The question is whether this is really a priority."

Mr Clegg, left, delivered a thinly-veiled warning to Mr Cameron that he must face down any major Tory rebellion yesterday. He pointed out that he had asked Liberal Democrats to support coalition measures they did not like, and others should act in the same "spirit". But he added: "We haven't indulged in tit-for-tat choice about which bit of the Coalition Agreement we are going to support or not."

For many within his party, the move to an elected House of Lords has become the Holy Grail, after the defeat in the referendum on the alternative voting system and the failure to block a Conservative-led rise in tuition fees.

Mr Clegg's ambition to create an elected House of Lords is also set to receive a blow today as a rebel group threatens to present a rival reform plan – delaying the process almost indefinitely. i has learnt that a challenge is being presented from within the committee of peers and MPs that was set up to advise on the reforms. The official recommendations will be made today and, as expected, will suggest that the current House of Lords be scrapped and replaced by a chamber that is four-fifths elected.

But the committee, led by the former Labour minister Lord Richard, is split down the middle, and its recommendation was passed by only a wafer-thin majority. Twelve of its members – nine peers and three MPs – are threatening to launch a rival blueprint today.